For some time now at middleweight, longtime contender, Derek Brunson – has been gauged as a litmus test for upcoming prospects, as well as sport veterans. The twenty-eight fight South Carolina native has come up short on occasion in these sort of matchings, but in his now current three-fight winning run – has prevented the rise of Elias Theodorou, Ian Heinisch, and undoubtedly most impressively, took a final-frame knockout win over Edmen Shahbazyan.
The 36-year-old Strikeforce alumnus seems to have found an extra gear in the late stages of his career, evident in his patient display opposite upstart, Shahbazyan – which he abandoned against current champion, Israel Adesanya during their heated UFC 230 clash back in November 2018.
Certainly overlooked ahead of Saturday night’s short-notice headliner – Brunson is often the forgotten man at 185-pounds, but just take a look at the competition he’s faltered opposite in his seven losses. Kendall Grove, Jacaré Souza (x2), Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, Anderson Silva, and the aforenoted Adesanya. Apart from Grove and Romero, the latter not for the want of trying – that’s four world titleholders.
Make no mistake about it, Shahbazyan has made incredibly short work of some real notable names at middleweight already in his brief Octagon stint – resulting in his brisk push against Brunson and even had some early success in the opening round. It’s an age-old tale; pushed to the moon and back, way too soon.
Below, join me as I play matchmaker for the streaking Brunson who can now afford to look up the rankings for his next outing, while Glendale Fight Team mainstay, Shahbazyan has hit a bump in the road in his quest to become the promotion’s youngest ever world champion. Time to reset.
Darren Till vs. Derek Brunson:
Last weekend – I noted how UFC Fight Island 3 headliner, Till, should keep a close eye on Brunson vs. Shahbazyan – with his potential next opponent stemming from the bout. He’s just dropped his third defeat in four outings, however – his stock hasn’t dropped whatsoever, and a Fight Night headliner versus Brunson once he recovers from his MCL tear, would be a welcome matchup.
Till’s faced some enormous talent since he challenged Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title, with matchups alongside, Jorge Masvidal, Kelvin Gastelum, and the aforementioned, Whittaker presenting themselves. Another contender well exposed to elite level competition; Brunson.
There’s no real rush on this matchup either. If we take a look at how the middleweight division is playing out, Adesanya is set to meet with Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero and Uriah Hall are slated to meet, and Whittaker with throw down with Jared Cannonier.
If the promotion elects against pitting Till and Brunson opposite each other, or Brunson wants to get back in there as quickly as time will allow – a pairing with Jack Hermansson also makes logical sense, but it’s not my prefered option.
Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Ian Heinisch:
Former LFA interim middleweight gold holder, Heinisch has returned to the win column recently, but like Shahbazyan – as noted earlier, has also suffered a blemish opposite Brunson. The Denver native currently sits at #13 in the official middleweight pile and made quick work of Gerald Meerschaert at UFC 250 in June.
Shahbazyan has just suffered his first professional loss, and time and time again – we see a completely different fighter emerge from the other side, with the pressure that comes with that ‘0’ next to your record, gone.
The still only 22-year-old suffered some damage before the klaxon to signal the end of the second round, but with Herb Dean erring on the side of caution in the run-up to the third round stoppage, Shahbazyan was saved from some really unnecessary punishment.
Saturday’s outing marked Shahbazyan’s fourth since March of last year, and a pairing with Heinisch toward the end of this annum would offer either the opportunity to crack the top-ten, with the former likely to drop from his #9 perch as a result of his loss, and also – the chance to add a notable name to their professional résumé.